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Thoughts and Takeaways From Second Republican Presidential Debate


Over four hours - yes, four hours! - of debate occurred this past week and you knew yours truly was utterly excited. Yayyyy rhetoric! Nonetheless, after a few stops along the campaign trail for most of these candidates, a big shake up in the polls following the first national debate, and Rick Perry folding his hand at the table, CNN get's the nod in delivering the second national debate for the GOP.

After logging massive hours of taking notes, and yes, geeking out on this very debate season, here are some of my takeaways from the second Republican National Debate.

- The Reagan Library was an interesting location rather than a big stadium for this debate. I'm pretty sure CNN wanted to go in a different direction than FOX News (naturally, right?), and I think having it in a place that lends to a theme and an overall intimate setting was spot on. Especially considering the crowd feedback that interrupted responses or timing in the first debate. Well done, CNN. 

- Staying on CNN, I thoroughly enjoyed the work of moderator, Jake Tapper. I liked that he was aggressive in staying on point with debate rules, the timing of responses, and was stern in not allowing candidates to get away with stock/prepared responses that were designed to deflect answering specific questions. Tapper also did a tremendous job in controlling the large panel in the second debate by allowing responses, directing rebuttals, and making sure candidates did not get lost in the mix.

On the other end, I was not a fan of the usage of Hugh Hewitt and Dana Bash. Many of their questions felt aggressive in nature along the likes of a press conference instead of to acquire knowledge for the audience. This is where Megyn Kelly shined so brightly in the first debate. If only we can assemble a dream team...

And one last thing on the production of this debate, it went on wayyyyyyy too long. 3 hours is too much in this open format, especially when the format did not include much of a hybrid style and only included direct questions, many which asked for responses from the candidates on another candidate's quote or prior action. I would have liked to see at least an hour of questions dedicated to issues from the public and social media the way FOX News included. 

- In my honest opinion, no one will talk about it because it was the "JV Debate" or the "undercard" if you will, but the first debate was in fact the purer, healthier, more informative debate. With only four candidates, a solid hour and a half, and a range of questions covered, Pataki, Santorum, Graham, and Jindal were very interesting. Naturally, with less people, and a hearty amount of time, a debate has more flow and more substance. 

The "main event" - if I can call it that - was filled with countless moments of candidates fawning over one another to respond or to get in on the discussion. "Jake, can I respond!" "Jake, I'd like to get in on this!" "Jake, he mentioned me!" "Jake!" "Jake!" "Jake!". What an absolute mess. Sometimes I wonder how collegiate debates can be so structured and poignant, and the professional ones can be an absolute cluster. 

- From the first debate of the night, the big winner for me was in fact Lindsey Graham. He really was aggressive in not only hitting hard on his military experience, but also let much of his personality shine through that we didn't see in Cleveland. Graham definitely had the kind of performance that propelled Fiorina up the ladder. I'm not sure if he'll have the same success, but Graham was huge tonight (despite one moment, more on that later), especially his face-off with Santorum where he refused to back down on war strategies. 

- Bobby Jindal continues to take these awkward, defensive responses that will ultimately keep him in the first debates throughout this race. His responses were that of the little kid in Junior High who is just dying to let you know how cool he is. "Let me tell ya!"

- My biggest issue of the night was in fact the way CNN attempted to begin both debates with questions on Donald Trump to stir up the debate. Both of them began with 12-15 minutes of quotes and "how do you feel about" questions regarding a Trump quote or policy. Major kudos to Governor Pataki in the first debate, and especially Chris Christie in the second, who both dismissed the cheap tactic. CNN criticized FOX News for the same issue from the first debate. Many of their pundits complain about the Trump focus, and when the world is watching, they did the very same thing. 

Speaking of, nothing was worst than Wolf Blitzer interrupting a pre-debate discussion to let the audience know that he received word that Donald Trump is nearing the building. A few minutes later, he did so again to introduce footage of Trump arriving to the building. Umm, thanks Wolf. Like, seriously, dude, I would hope Trump shows up. Running for President and all, that's kind of a big deal and appointment. We all kind of expect him to show up. Not a surprise. Shame on CNN. 

- On the matter of Trump, I'm quite dubious about these "polls" that he leads. Whose opinion are they getting? Several years ago we heard the same about Mayor Guliani. Nonetheless, Trump didn't have a strong showing tonight. Entertaining? Absolutely. His immediate insult thrown towards Rand to begin the debate, his "medical" advice on autism, and that oh so awkward high-five with Dr. Carson were the cherry on top. 

Also, can someone please have Trump describe what "building a wall" necessarily means on immigration reform? 

- Could we also stop referring to "the border", as in only mentioning one. Despite his strong night, I cringed very tightly when Graham uttered, "I've never met an illegal Canadian". Big statement that will haunt Graham. 

- As for Jeb Bush, I thought he held his own considering the obvious strategic point of attack from Trump towards him. At stages, Trump definitely punked Bush around, and Jeb looked rather uncomfortable bringing that inner fight out in him to take it to Trump. Especially, the moment he asked for an apology towards his wife from Trump. Bush rebounded later on with the classic "Eveready" response, but it just seems like Bush is carrying and fighting too many forces that really aren't of his doing in this race. 

- The Hilary Clinton bashing needs to stop. It really does. I'm no Clinton fan, but it does make the GOP look fearful of her. Especially when the Dems have Biden and Sanders on the rise. 

- Speaking of on the rise, holy you-know-what regarding Carly Fiorina! Without a shadow of a doubt she was tonight's winner. Her responses were sharp, intelligent, quick, and hard-hitting when they needed to be. Fiorina even had a bit of authentic pathos injected when discussing the loss of her child to drug abuse, and how she would attack recreational legalization of marijuana. She also took on Trump in an effective way the entire panel failed to do all night, which was obviously a strategy of all camps going in. 

Her response to "which woman would you select on the $10 bill" was absolute gold. " I wouldn't change the $10 bill or the $20. We need to recognize women are not a special interest group. Women are the majority of this nation." Right then and there I threw my pen in the air. Ding. Ding. Ring the bell, right there! 

- Not too far behind on the winner's list should be Chris Christie who took a great strategy in doing what made him so popular in New Jersey and the tri-state area in being more personable and of the people. His opening statement of taking the camera off him set the tone, and taking the approach for the "common man" throughout the night. 

- Governor Rand is the outlier in this one, and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he fell in the polls after this debate. Rand is the quirky, different kind or republican, and he showed more of it in this debate. I actually respect him greatly for his views that aren't completely conforming. 

Where he shined most is that he understands social issues that many of the other candidates don't, or has an opinion on topics that the others wouldn't go near. I'm sure voting republicans have noticed his different stance on the war on drugs, on war and international affairs, and especially, racial issues in our country, which has been omitted greatly from both debates. 

- On the topic of omitted, doesn't that describe Mike Huckabee thus far? I'm not a huge fan of Huckabee, but he is a very, very intelligent man. Poor showing again in this one. The same goes for Governor Kasich who also has so much to offer. 

- You know what was really, really, really poor? Senator Rubio's drought joke in his opening statement. Awful joke, and just bad timing, bruh. 

- Ted Cruz knows the art of delivery. That man has probably watched a pro wrestling promo or two in his lifetime. Debate geeks like myself love the fact that he controlled the direction of his responses, meaning he knew when and where to talk in regards to the content he was delivering. Many times, he looked directly into a camera regarding topics that affected the American people. Good job. And yeah, yeah, I know, I'm such a nerd. 

 - War, war, war, war, war! I wouldn't be surprised to see the dems attack the use and focus of these Republican debates on war. Again, plenty of social and domestic issues here at home, and very few have been covered, especially in a debate that lasted over 3 hours. Very disappointing. 

Overall, I enjoyed this week's debates. I thought we got more from the candidates than we did from the first national debate, which is natural considering the adjustments made, but there is still some issues and inclusion from the networks looking to drum up the hype. The top job in the free world is on the line here, this doesn't need to be hyped or aggrandized. Hopefully, the networks get that. CNBC, you're now on notice come next month!

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